One of my cousins sent me an email a couple of days ago…
…I couldn’t stop myself from ending with these couple of lines:- Every time I think of you, am amazed at how a once shy and recluse Sudhar turned things around and unfurled himself to become who you are today! And that’s no joke…you’ve made it up all by yourself! I bet you should start writing an autobio…
I was on cloud nine by the time I was done reading the email! Those kind of words always fan one’s ego.
Thankfully, only a few weeks earlier, I had read the NYTimes article “The Problem With Memoirs” – I even tweeted that “Half the people in America seem to be writing a book, especially memoir. The other half could care less. No wonder Borders B&N are bankrupt”.
That article was somewhat unnecessarily brutal. Yet, it was a timely reminder on a couple of fronts. I like to call out a few things from it, for my own sake:
That you had parents and a childhood does not of itself qualify you to write a memoir. A vast majority of people used to live lives that would draw a C or a D if grades were being passed out — not that they were bad lives, just bland.
That’s what happens when immature writers write memoirs: they don’t realize that an ordeal, served up without perspective or perceptiveness, is merely an ordeal.
I ask myself, Did I have a life that would pass a A grade? Likely No.
Did I have any ordeals that offers a perspective? Probably. Is it unique? Likely No.
It is probably fair to conclude that a nobody like me should not publish a memoir.
But hang on. I say publish not write.
As William Zinsser argues in this fitting rebuttal to the NYTimes article, every self respecting soul has The Right to Write. Here is a gist of what Zinsser had to say – which is exactly what I had concluded myself after reading Neil Genzlinger’s rant in NYTimes.
All of us earn that right by being born; one of the deepest human impulses is to leave a record of what we did and what we thought and felt on our journey. The issue here is not whether so many bad memoirs should be written. It’s whether they should be published–let’s put the blame where it belongs–and whether, once published, they should be reviewed.
Zinsser, as some of you may know, is one of my teachers and role models in writing – so I trust his opinion more than Genzlinger’s. I do wonder if the inkling to leave a legacy is true for every person. May be it is and manifests in many ways, not the least of which is an effort to write a memoir, that too published & in rare cases, end up as best sellers!
All of this reminds me of the phrase “Run your own race”. Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can. Let’s be a hero to ourselves first. Being our own hero or a hero to our own small circle of people is in itself worthy of our efforts. That my cousin was “amazed” by my life thus far or that I inspire a few from my little circle of friends and family is all I need to eventually rest in peace.
We can save the trees and the publishers. Of course, we can give a break to some bored NYTimes book reviewers too.